To find the best hiking pants for hikes and backpacking trips, we looked at over 30 models and then selected more than 10 for hands-on testing. We then took to the trails in the southwest deserts, Pacific Northwest, and everything in between. We found which are the most comfortable to walk miles in, which will keep you cool, and which will protect you in a light rain. After so many days spent hiking in these pants, not to mention rock climbing, camping, working, and just hanging around, we are confident that we can provide the best recommendations to you, no matter what your intended adventure or needs are.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
|Displaying 1 - 5 of 11||≪ Previous | View All | Next ≫|
Analysis and Award Winners
January 2018 Update
We added in a Best Buy for convertible pants: The North Face Paramount Trail Convertible. Relatives of this pant like the Paramount 2.0 Convertible have been winning value awards for a long time. This year is no exception. For $70 you get a lot of versatility, durability and loads of pockets and features. We also found that the Prana Brion, a sibling of the EC Prana Zion, is one our favorite AND least expensive options.
Prana Stretch Zion
For years, the Prana Stretch Zion has been one of our favorite hiking and trekking pant. We also love their versatility. They're great for climbing, traveling, working, and wearing around town during our everyday lives. This year was no exception, as the Stretch Zion took the top spot in our overall comparative rankings. If you prefer convertibles to give you the choice of pants vs. shorts, we still highly recommend the Stretch Zion Convertible, which is essentially the same pant with double cargo pockets and zip off lower legs. Prana won us over by combining the softest and most comfortable feeling fabric with a cut that is flexible, functional, and stylish. We also loved its simple yet perfectly designed features, especially the small and low-profile waist tightener that made it easy to wear these pants comfortably under the hip belt of a pack, and the waist belt of a harness, without needing a belt. The truest test of how much we loved these pants came when we woke up in the morning: it was always a challenge to push these pants out of the way and see what other pairs were hanging in the closet. If you are looking for a supremely comfortable pair of hiking pants, or perhaps never want to have to look for another pair of pants ever again, then we would recommend trying on the Prana Stretch Zion. If you want to save $10 and don't need a cargo pocket or cuff snaps, we highly recommend the Prana Brion. The Brion also looks better around town.
Very comfortable fabric and fit
Super functional for hiking and backpacking, as well as climbing and use around town
Minimalist features give just what you need, and nothing more
Convertible option available for those who want even more versatility
Tends to absorb water in a heavy downpour
A bit warm for use in the hottest climates
Read Review: Prana Stretch Zion
Best Bang for the Buck
The Patagonia Quandary is a very simple and comfortable hiking pant made of stretchy recycled nylon and cut in a slim, straight fit. We thought it was stylish and unassuming off the trail, while doing an awesome job of balancing weather protection and the ability to stay cool while hiking. Best of all, it was the most affordable pant in this review and considering it was one of the highest scorers, this made it the optimal choice for our Best Bang for the Buck Award. Usually, if you want to spend the least amount of money on gear, you will have to compromise a bit on performance, but not so here! The Quandary Pant offers the best of both worlds, combining affordability with top-level comfort, mobility, and water protection. This is a pant that will truly thrive for hours, days, or even months on the trail, but wouldn't be our top choice for heavy manual labor or abrasive rock climbing. For those who want to spend the least amount of money on their pants, but don't want to compromise on materials or performance, the Patagonia Quandary is our recommendation for you.
Super stretchy fabric moves as you move and feels great against the skin
DWR coating effectively sheds water while fabric stays dry
The most affordable pant in the review
Few pockets means it's hard to carry lots of extra stuff
Not a ton of ventilation
Read Review: Patagonia Quandary
Best Value for a Convertible
The North Face Paramount Trail Convertible
Not only is this the least expensive convertible pant we tested, but it's also one of the best values of any hiking pant we've seen. Despite the low price, it comes loaded with more features than most of the competition. It has five pockets including two long cargo pockets that easily fit a larger map. The integrated belt features a flat face that is relatively comfortable under a backpacking waist belt. Rear zips allow ventilation and for the pant to fit over bigger boots. About all it lacks is stretchy material. If you want this, you need to pay another $20 for the Paramount 3.0 Convertible. The 3.0 also has a slightly different pocket configuration and pant length. Between the two, we prefer having the stretch of the spandex /nylon blend of the 3.0 but we're not sure it's worth $20. If you want a more stretchy convertible pant, we'd go with the Stretch Zion.
Loads of pockets and features
Durable and time-tested
Non-stretchy material a little restrictive
Not our favorite look
Read Review: The North Face Paramount Trail Convertible
Most Versatile Hiking Pants
KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible
Hiking is an excellent way to explore the landscape anywhere on earth, and the most versatile hiking pant will be able to keep you fresh as you traverse the blistering heat of the Mojave Desert just as well as it protects you from the chill winds high in the Sierra. If you are looking for that one pair of uber-pants that can handle it all the better than the rest, look no further than the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible. We found its heavy, stretchy nylon to be an optimal shield against both wind and sun, not to mention trailside brush and abrasive dirt and rock. The option to convert them into shorts makes the Renegade Cargo Convertible a perfect choice for mountain travel where temperatures fluctuate rapidly, and we loved wearing them as shorts by day, and pants once the sun got lower in the sky. With their durable fabric and stylish fit, these pants took "do everything" to a new level, as we think they are a fantastic choice for other activities besides just hiking. While traveling, camping, climbing, or working in the yard, we always loved how these pants fit and performed, which is why we chose to recommend them as our Top Pick for Versatility.
Convertible option allows for the most comfort no matter what the temperature
Stretchy nylon feels great against the skin, while also offering excellent protection from the elements
Cargo pockets provide a ton of storage space for trail necessities
Convertible zippers have a distinct look, and feel, across the lower quads
Main button comes unsnapped
Read Review: KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible
Top Pick for Wet Weather
There are some landscapes on earth that are virtually synonymous with heavy rainfall: the North Cascades, the South Island of New Zealand, or the Kanchenjunga region of the Himalaya. Hiking in these areas almost guarantees that you will end up getting wet, so a water resistant hiking pant should be a top priority if you have a trip to these or other wet climates in mind. Most of the pants that we tested for this review claim to have some durable water resistant (DWR) coating applied to help them shed water before it absorbs into the fabric, but only the Arc'teryx Perimeter Pant accomplished this task efficiently, making it our Top Pick for Wet Weather. It's made of a stretchy blend of nylon and elastane that reminds one of a more technical mountain pant but in very lightweight form. It balances supple mobility and breathability with more than adequate water resistance for most hiking adventures, and although it wasn't one of the highest overall scorers, it's our first choice if we know that rain is on its way.
The best water-shedding DWR coating of any hiking pant
Stretchy nylon/elastane fabric absorbs very little water
Feels like a very lightweight technical pant
Nylon not as comfortable against skin as others
Not much ventilation
Read Review: Arc'teryx Perimeter
Notable for Incredible Durability
Fjallraven Vidda Pro
For some people, hiking is not so much about strolling along a perfectly manicured trail as it is about bushwacking, scrambling through difficult terrain, and getting very dirty. For these types, we recommend checking out the unique Fjallraven Vidda Pro, a tried and true design that comes to us from the backwoods of Sweden. The most interesting feature of these pants is that they are designed to be "impregnated" with Fjallraven's Greenland wax, in much the same way that one might wax their skis, to add durability and water resistance in the same way that our ancestors did in the days before Gore-Tex and high-tech synthetic fabrics. It is not an exaggeration to think of these pants as high-quality, reinforced, and ethically sourced army surplus pants, and they will thrive as a do-it-all option for the rough wearer: hunting, bushcraft, and winter ranching. While they weren't the highest scorers in our stretchy nylon-heavy review, they set themselves apart for their durability and toughness, notable and admirable qualities for any pair of hiking pants.
Constructed with hefty weight G-1000 fabric that blends polyester and cotton
Reinforced in all of the heavy wear areas
Greenland wax treatment increases durability and weather resistance
Far too heavy for warm climates
A noticeably "Euro" style
Read Review: Fjallraven Vidda Pro
Analysis and Test Results
We tested pants over a three-month period in a variety of locations, including the Cascades of Oregon, the desert of Southern Utah, and the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The majority of our testing took place on hikes and camping adventures, where we used these pants as they were intended to be used. To accurately rate each product, we assessed them based upon five separate metrics that play a critical role in the optimal performance and quality of a hiking pant: comfort and mobility, venting and breathability, versatility, water resistance, and features. For certain products or metrics where we were not able to reach solid conclusions in the field, we devised more controlled comparative tests described below.
For each metric that we assessed for, we assigned each pant a score of 1-10. We then weighted each parameter based upon its relative importance to the function and combined all the scores to come up with an overall score between 1-100. In all cases, we rated pants based on their performance compared to the competition. Since we selected the nine best pairs of hiking pants from an exhaustive list of over 70 options, a poor score means that it wasn't as good as the other eight excellent pairs of pants in our review, and doesn't imply that it is an awful product. It's possible that a particular metric may be far more important to you than it was in this review. If so, we encourage you to pay very close attention to that metric and dive deeper into the individual reviews to find out exactly how a given pant performed. Below we will describe each review metric in detail, including how we assessed for it, how much that metric contributed to the overall score, and let you know which were the best scoring products for each metric.
Comfort and Mobility
It stands to reason that the most critical consideration for any piece of clothing is how comfortable it is. If you are distracted by something that you are wearing, then your attention is being taken away from what you are doing. Comfort, then, could be defined as a lack of distraction, where the pant moves and flows with you as you move; never obstructing, never pinching, never rubbing, never annoying, never distracting. If a pant isn't comfortable to wear, you won't care about the rest of the metrics we measured for you here, because you won't consider wearing the pants long enough to care whether the pockets are in convenient places or the stitching is durable.
Comfort goes hand-in-hand with mobility. Hiking pants need to be able to move and bend like you, and this is a crucial component to keeping your pants off your mind. While all of the pants reviewed are constructed primarily of nylon, some incorporate small percentages of stretchy material, such as spandex or elastane to help them stretch and move without hindering, and others use blends of cotton to improve the feel against the skin.
Some pants, such as the Patagonia Quandary fit slim, but have incredible stretching properties, keeping them mobile. On the other hand, a couple of options, such as the Fjallraven Vidda Pro pants, have no stretchiness built into the fabric but instead promote mobility by incorporating a looser, baggier cut.
The pants that were the most comfortable were constructed using a soft material that felt great against the skin. They also had the fewest restrictions in the cut where we noticed tightness or rubbing, and had the stretchiest and most mobile fabrics. The Prana Stretch Zion did the best job of incorporating all these factors, providing the most comfortable, mobile, and relaxing fit. Close second was the stretchy and mobile Patagonia Quandary, while the REI Co-op Screeline and The North Face Paramount 3.0 both fit slightly looser to accomplish nearly the same amount of comfort. Comfort varies based on body size and type, so be sure to read more in-depth in the individual reviews to get an idea of how each pant fits. Overall, Comfort and Mobility accounted for 35% of a product's final score.
Venting and Breathability
Those of us who like to hike in pants can appreciate their ability to protect us from wind, sun, cold, and brush. However, spend enough time walking around outside in pants, and you are going to experience some severe heat buildup, not to mention sweating. That's why it's essential to have a pant that can vent and breathe well. Breathability is the ability of fabric to allow heat and especially moisture to travel from the inside to the outside through the material while venting refers to the ability to open up pockets or zippers to more quickly allow hot, moist air to escape and cool one off.
Through our many months of testing, we found that venting is the most effective and efficient way of cooling off when overheating in a pair of pants, so features like zippered vents, mesh lined pockets, and roll-able cuffs factored heavily into a product's score. Most of the pants featured a tight, nylon weave that severely limited direct air transfer — good for wind protection, but not as efficient for breathability.
To test venting and breathability, we mostly relied on our time field testing. Much of this time was spent wandering around in the sun in the desert, perfect for understanding how well a pant will breathe while exerting oneself in the sun. Other times we hiked uphill, as one usually does in the mountains, building up the heat and sweat needed for some serious study. Not content with these "uncontrolled" tests, we also decided to test all the pants in a controlled situation. We took them out to a steep hill in the sun, worked up a sweat, and ran up the hill as fast as we could in each different pair of pants, paying close attention to how hot and uncomfortable each pair felt. While we found it impossible to quantify the results of this test, we easily noticed what models felt cooler than others.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the pants made of the lightest and thinnest fabric did the best job of breathing, while the pants with the most mesh and zippered vents cooled us off the quickest and prevented us from getting too sweaty in the first place. The REI Co-op Screeline was the clear winner in this department, thanks to its generous mesh venting, especially behind the knees. The KUHL Kontra Air was a close second, using a combination of a ton of venting as well as a thin and light cotton blend fabric. The KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible also had a ton of vents, not to mention the ability to simply convert them to shorts, should the desire arise. The pants that we found to be the hottest, interpreted here as the least breathable, were also the thickest and heaviest and had the least vents. With its extremely dense and heavy G-1000 fabric and no vents, the Fjallraven Vidda Pro was a pant designed exclusively for cooler weather. Venting and Breathability accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
On many hiking adventures, you will travel light, sometimes only having the luxury to take what you are wearing when you walk out the door. Whether you are going for a day hike or planning a long backpacking trip, you will be happier in a single pair of pants that work across a range of conditions and temperatures. The ideal pants can protect your legs from most conditions all on the same hike. A pair of super versatile pants should have no problem handling conditions ranging from intense sun and heat, wind, rain, cold, or brush along the trail.
The convertible feature helps with a pant's versatility. If it is too hot or you become too sweaty, that problem can be quickly solved by unzipping the bottoms and turning them into shorts. In general, pants that were convertible scored higher for versatility. This year we only tested one pair of convertible pants, the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible, although a couple other pairs, the Prana Stretch Zion and The North Face Paramount 3.0 are also available in convertible options.
Another less critical aspect to versatility is whether the pants excel at other activities besides just hiking. For instance, on a long thru-hike you may find yourself swimming, stretching out with some yoga, climbing a tree (for any number of reasons!), or in an impromptu bouldering session. How well you can do these things in one pair of pants affects how we scored them for versatility. While these pants are designed for hiking, pants are pants, and it is nice to be able to wear them around town during our regular lives if need be, and this factor also contributed slightly to a pant's versatility score.
Made with durable nylon and offering many venting options, not to mention the ability to convert into shorts, we found the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible to be the most versatile pants that we tested for this review. They kept us cool while hiking uphill in the sun, and were also thick enough to protect us from the cold and wind. We also liked them for wearing around town or while working outside and found them to be an adequate climbing pant as well. A close second was the Prana Stretch Zion, which we found to be a warmer pant overall, but which also comes with a convertible option. Lastly, The North Face Paramount 3.0 was a sleek and stylish pant that we found served us well whether out hiking with a pack on or traveling the world. Its light and the stretchy fabric was excellent against the wind and also offered superb sun protection, and it also has a convertible option. Overall, versatility accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
Let's face it; if you are going out on a multi-day backpacking trip, chances are you are going to get rained on at some point. Becoming soaked to the bone is a backcountry traveler's worst nightmare, but that fear must be weighed against the alternative — carrying a lot of extra clothing and weight. For multi-day trips, water resistance is a huge bonus for a pair of hiking pants, but it also matters if you happen to live or hike in a wet climate. We used to consider wind resistance as well when assessing for a hiking pant's performance but have found that all the pairs that we tested are functionally wind resistant due to their tightly woven fabrics.
Most of these pants are designed to keep you as dry as possible, but are not specialty rain layers, and are not water proof. Most of them come with a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating applied to the outside. This chemical coating helps the fabric shed water upon contact, preventing it from being absorbed into the material. It is worth noting that these layers break down and wear off over time, especially if you wash your pants frequently in the washing machine, so if you are heading out on a long trip with an older pair of pants, you should apply a new DWR finish to your pants.
To test water resistance, we wore these pants outside as often as we could in poor weather. Admittedly, though, our head tester lives high in the mountains of Colorado and tested these pants primarily in fall, when high pressure and sunshine tend to dominate the forecast. Testing conditions ranged from hiking in the snowy mountains (which is not the weather that most people consider hiking in) to sunny and dry in the desert (again, no rain). To determine how these pants performed in a rainstorm, we conducted the shower test, where we put the pants on and jumped into the shower to see what happened. Things we looked for were how well the DWR coating worked after three months of testing and washing, whether the fabric tended to absorb water, how wet our legs got inside the pants, and how long the pants took to dry out after being hung up (post shower).
The most weather resistant pant was the Arc'teryx Perimeter Pant, which we awarded our Top Pick for Wet Weather. The DWR coating did a great job of shedding water even after lots of abuse, and the slippery nylon fabric didn't absorb water like many of the others. It was also fast to dry out once removed from the "rain," since it hadn't absorbed much water in the first place. The Patagonia Quandary performed nearly as well, incorporating an effective DWR coating with non-absorbent and fast drying stretchy nylon weave fabric. We were also very intrigued by the performance of the wax impregnated Fjallraven Vidda Pro pant, which eschews the now-standard chemical DWR coating in favor of a more natural and customizable wax one. Weather resistance accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
The final category that differentiates the best pairs of hiking pants from the worst is their respective features. These are the little things that you love or drive you nuts. Every pair has their own set of unique features, including the type of pockets and location, waist tightening systems and belts, the zipper system to convert into shorts, vertical cuff zippers, cuff roll-up buttons, cuff tighteners, ventilation holes, and crotch zippers. Some of these features were functional additions that inspired our adoration, while others were superfluous or maddening.
In all cases, we attempted to rate the product based on whether the features were useful, and if they worked well. In most cases, having the option to convert to shorts was useful, but we also rated this feature on how well the zippers functioned, how easy they were to convert compared to the other pants, and how they looked and felt. We did a similar analysis of pocket layout and location, as well as for waist tightening systems.
In short, the more useful and functional features a pant included, the higher the score. Products that received a lower rating either included few useful features, or the ones that were included didn't function nearly as well as competitors.
Our Top Pick for Versatility, the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible pant also had the best feature set. It had a ton of pocket options for those who like to have all their trail trinkets handy and organized, as well as excellent ventilation and the ability to convert to shorts. The KUHL Kontra Air has an entirely different set of pockets and ventilation designs that also worked better than the rest. Lastly, our Editors' Choice winning Prana Stretch Zion had fewer pockets than the two KUHL pants, but the design and execution of its features were nearly flawless. We loved the small, low profile waist tightener that allowed us to backpack and climb without wearing a belt. Features accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
Pants specifically designed for hiking are the best choice for trekking or backpacking in just about any environment. The challenge comes when trying to decide which ones to buy. While comfort is usually a top priority, the climate in which you spend most of your time can dictate what features are most important to you. We hope that this expert review of the most highly rated and popular hiking pants on the market will help you make an optimal choice. Happy hiking!
— Andy Wellman
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.